Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Herstory of International Women's Day, by Dora Byamukama

photograph of Dora Byamukama is from here
The content of this post is from New Vision (Uganda), *here*.

What is Women's Day about?
Wednesday, 9th March, 2011

By Dora Byamukama

HAVE you ever wondered why March 8 is celebrated as the International Women's Day? We need to go back into history to find out how the International Women's Day came into practice.

It is reported that International Women's Day, originally called International Working Women's Day was originated by Clara Zetkin, a leader of the Social Democratic Party in Germany, who first proposed the idea of a women's day at the Second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1910.

The conference was attended by over 100 women from 17 countries and included workers' unions, socialist political parties and working women's clubs. This conference established a Women's Day, international in character, to honour the movement for women's rights and to assist in achieving universal suffrage for women. Zetkin's suggestion received unanimous approval and the first International Women's Day was celebrated in 1911.

The focus was on the rights of women workers and in 1908 about 15,000 women in various industries had marched on the streets of New York to press for shorter working hours, better pay and voting rights. They were baton-charged by Police who arrived on horseback. The ensuing struggle between women workers and the Police led to several women being injured and imprisoned for demanding their rights. This incident was one among others that had prompted Zetkin to demand a day that would remember the women's struggle, with a view towards continuing the resistance.

As a result of the decision taken at Copenhagen, International Women's Day was marked for the first time on March 19, 2011 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, where more than one million women and men attended rallies. Apart from the right to vote and to hold public office, they demanded the right to work, to vocational training and to an end to discrimination on the job.

With the passage of time, the meaning of the day was broadened to include political, economic and social rights for women. This year's International Women's Day marks 100 years since its inception. Reasons for its celebration currently vary and include:

  • A time to underscore the importance of women's rights and empowerment in all fields and a reminder that the agenda of women's rights must form the core of the agenda of all governments and nations;

  • Celebration of respect, appreciation and love towards women;

  • Celebration for women's economic, political and social achievements.

  • Simply an occasion for men to express their love for women;

  • A time to take stock of the achievements of women in the political, economic and social spheres and to project on the next goals.

  • A celebration of womanhood- the privilege of being a woman.

    The Theme for the International Women's Day for 2011 is "Act Now: Promote Maternal Health". It is reported that every year, globally, more than half a million women die due to complications of pregnancy or child birth and malaria. According to the Uganda Demographic Health Survey of 2006 about 6000 women annually die due to pregnancy related complications - this translates to about 16 women dying per day. This is a grave situation and the Government has already embarked on upscaling activities that address the issue of maternal mortality. The Government is doing this by implementing the provisions in the Constitution which provides that the state shall protect women and their rights, taking into account their unique status and natural maternal functions in society.

    The NRM Government has also initiated policies and supported enactment of laws that address maternal mortality, these include, creation of awareness and enforcement of the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act, 2010; the Domestic Violence Act, 2010; the Trafficking in Persons Act, 2009; Community policing, establishment of a domestic violence unit in Police and provision of 60 working days maternity leave and provision for paternity leave, among others.

    Uganda's International Women's Day celebrations of March 8, 2011 etched amazing memories in my mind. A prayer that referred to women as "helpers" attracted murmurs and instant debate as to whether women are "helpers" of men or companions or partners.

    The Islamic faith prayer was led by a lady, who reminded all that failure to accord girls and women equal rights prohibit that person from entering paradise. Then there was a splendid parade by women from the army and police forces. All this was crowned by the granting of medals to female army officers for their heroic acts and gold medalist Inzikuru and launching of the African Women's Decade 2010-2020 by President Museveni.

    The struggle for women's rights is a daily activity. It is women's day on all the 365 days of the year. Success has, to some extent, been secured but more needs to be done. The struggle continues!

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